NEW YORK - Urged on by dozens of stars who turned out to sing, tell stories and plead for support for hurricane victims in a one-hour televised benefit, organizers said more than $44 million was raised Tuesday and donations are still being accepted.
With Stevie Wonder singing “Lean on Me” and Usher and Blake Shelton joining for “Stand By Me,” the message was clear: Americans were being asked to help those whose lives were upended by wind and rain.
Justin Bieber, George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Al Pacino, Lupita Nyong'o, Jay Leno and dozens of others sat at phone banks to accept donations. Beyonce, Will Smith and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sent in taped pleas for support during the event, shown on more than a dozen television networks and online simultaneously.
Originally conceived as a benefit for victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the “Hand in Hand” telethon was expanded to help people in Florida and the Caribbean devastated in recent days by Irma.
“We're here to raise money, lift some spirits,” said Jamie Foxx, standing with actor Leonardo DiCaprio. “When tough times hit, this is who we are. We're compassionate. We're unstoppable.”
Hollywood talent manager Scooter Braun, who organized the event with Houston rap artist Bun B, said that after the show, all the celebrities manning the phone banks stayed to take more calls. “No one left,” he said. “Everyone just kept answering phones and answering phones and answering phones. People want to give. Like, people want to help. And you don't have to be a celebrity to do it.”
For many of the stars, the storms hit close to home.
“I have family in Puerto Rico, I have family in Miami. I've been on the road. I haven't been able to be there. So you can imagine how it's been,” “Despacito” singer Luis Fonsi said after the show, adding that all his family, including his wife and young children in Miami, survived the storm and are safe.
“"Helpless - helpless is an understatement,” Fonsi said of being on tour and unable to be with his family. He noted that his experience paled in comparison to the pain the storms have caused for many.
“You can imagine how frustrating it is to not be able to sort of protect your own family,” he said. “Imagine all of these people that have nothing to do. The videos that you see online. So as an artist, as a singer, I think it's part of our job, it's part of our resume, to take time off and come together and do these kind of things.”
The quick-moving show took a form familiar to viewers since a sad template was set in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Celebrities requested donations, told heartwarming survival stories involving people caught in the storm and sang songs. Several organizations will benefit, including the United Way and Save the Children.
Stages in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville, Tennessee, were filled simultaneously, although the night's final performance - a tribute to Texans by George Strait, Robert Earl Keen, Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert and Lyle Lovett - originated from San Antonio.
Fonsi and Tori Kelly sang “Hallelujah” together. Dave Matthews picked his guitar from a studio above New York's Times Square, and Darius Rucker, Brad Paisley, Demi Lovato and Cece Winans sang the Beatles' “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Wonder, backed by a gospel chorus, opened the show with the Bill Withers classic.
“Natural disasters don't discriminate,” Beyonce said. “They don't care if you're an immigrant, black or white, Hispanic or Asian, Jewish or Muslim, wealthy or poor.” Cher and Oprah Winfrey told the story behind a frequently seen picture of strangers forming a human chain to save someone from flooding in Houston.
Usually competitive network morning personalities Matt Lauer, Norah O'Donnell and Michael Strahan stood before a satellite image of an ominous Irma to describe devastation the storm had caused.
Donations were announced from some deep pockets. Computer maker Michael Dell and his wife, Susan, pledged to match the first $10 million in donations Tuesday. They've given a total of $41 million to the Rebuild Texas Fund. Basketball star Chris Paul gave $20,000 and said the NBA Players Association would match donations of up to the same amount given by any NBA player.
Announcing Apple's promise to give $5 million, comic Stephen Colbert quipped said it was coincidentally “also the price of the new iPhone.”
ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, HBO, MTV, BET and Univision were among the networks carrying the program, which was also streamed online.